Get your tools looking brand new with these expert tips.

By PJ Feinstein and Alicia Chilton
Updated March 31, 2020
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You probably have a small arsenal of essential makeup brushes that get used regularly. And now that many of us are working from home while practicing social distancing, you're likely giving your skin a break. So what better time to clean your makeup brushes than when you're not using them nearly as much (if at all)?

Over time, all of that foundation, eyeshadow, blush, and concealer can start to make brushes look grimy. Dirty makeup brushes can cause skin irritation, blemishes, and uneven makeup application, so it's important to keep up with regular cleaning. Luckily, keeping your makeup brushes clean doesn't have to be a chore. (Because applying makeup and trying new trends is the fun part.) We asked the pros for their advice on how to clean makeup brushes, and their tips are remarkably simple.

Pro Tips for Cleaning Makeup Brushes

You'll find plenty of wipes, liquid cleaners, and even solid, soap-like makeup brush cleaners in the cosmetics aisle, at your favorite beauty store, and department-store beauty counters. But the pros say you can substitute (often expensive) makeup brush cleansers for other common beauty-aisle items. Makeup artist Jamie Greenberg says most people need only a basic bar soap, such as a Dove Beauty Bar, $6.39 for 4-pack, Target, to get the job done. A dedicated brush cleanser, which Angella Valentine, makeup artist for Late Night with Seth Meyers, uses when working with guests on the show, is more of a "clean-as-you-go product." (One top-rated cleaner is by Cinema Secrets, $25, Sephora.) Rather than a routine, deep-clean product, it quickly removes color from brushes before you dip them in another compact.

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How to Clean Makeup Brushes

The bar of soap method is not only affordable, but it's also super easy. To cleanse your brushes, here's what you need to do:

  1. Swirl the makeup brush on a bar of soap under a running faucet. Work out the oils or colors onto the bar until the water runs clear. Be gentle so as not to damage the brush bristles or sponge applicator.
  2. Rinse the makeup brush lightly until all the soap is gone, and the water runs clear.
  3. Dry your brushes carefully. After rinsing your brushes of soap residue, reshape the brush hairs and lay them on a towel to dry. Standing them up in a cup or storage container can cause the water to drip down the brush, which Greenberg says will rust the ferrule or rot the wooden handle. It could take several hours for them to dry completely, so plan to wash your makeup brushes in the evening and let them dry flat overnight.

How to Clean Makeup Brushes Naturally

If you already have a favorite natural mild soap, shampoo, or face wash, you have a go-to natural makeup brush cleaner. If you don't have one at home, we recommend Dr. Bronner's Pure Castile Soap, $15.99, Target. Just be sure it is fragrance-free and doesn't contain anything that will irritate your skin, and get to cleaning.

Cleaning Beauty Sponges

Makeup sponges and Beauty Blenders, which you can buy for $20 at Sephora, are tiny miracle workers, but they also need a good cleaning from time to time. Again, gentle and mild cleaners are crucial. Rinse the sponge under warm water with a tiny bit of cleanser, gently squeeze to remove excess moisture, and let dry. Avoid wringing or twisting as this can cause the makeup sponge to break down.

More Makeup Brush Cleaners

Baby shampoos, known for their mildness, are also a favorite for cleaning makeup brushes. Many baby shampoos use natural ingredients, so if using natural products is a priority for you, look in the baby aisle. (We like the Honest Company Shampoo and Body Wash, $8.09, Walgreens.) You'll often find small bottles of baby shampoo in the travel-size section, so you don't have to find storage space in your bathroom for yet another bulky bottle.

Some people also like to condition their brushes, which is especially important for natural bristle brushes. To do so, turn to baby oil or liquified coconut oil, which sells for $12.99 per bottle at Walgreens, to get the job done. Swirl the makeup brush head gently and lightly in a few drops oil. Rinse with water and gently dab to remove excess moisture and lay flat to dry.

And of course, there is a wide variety of cleaners made specifically for cleaning makeup brushes. If you go this route, read the label, match the cleaner to your type of brush, check out the ingredients list, and always follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer.

In a world of beauty, hacks (some proven, some not), proceed with caution when using makeup brush cleaning hacks, such as using vinegar or your microwave to clean a beauty sponge. Although these may seem ingenious, intense cleaning methods do more harm than good to your makeup brushes.

How Often Should You Wash Your Makeup Brushes?

Greenberg recommends cleaning makeup brushes once a week, or, at the very least, once a month. So how do you know when it's time to clean your makeup brushes? Grab a mirror. Brushes overdue for a cleaning might have caused that bothersome blemish on your cheek. Dirty makeup brushes could also be the reason your blush has been looking blotchy, and your eyeshadow refuses to blend. According to Valentine, clean brush hair adheres to the product better, resulting in more even distribution of color.

There are many affordable makeup brushes on the market, so you might be tempted just to buy a few new ones. (Sephora sells a set of four essential brushes for only $18.) But the more you care for your makeup brushes, the longer they'll last, especially if they're high-quality. If you're diligent about keeping your makeup brushes and applicators clean, you can feel good about spending a few extra dollars on high-quality versions, such as the Ready to Roll Brush Set, $70, Sephora, which might do a better job of applying makeup than their inexpensive counterparts. Plus, longer-lasting brushes means fewer disposable ones in the landfill.

Although the buildup on makeup brushes is off-putting, getting them back to pristine condition is easy, and you likely already have what you need to get the job done. So grab some soap, baby shampoo, or makeup brush cleaner, and you'll be on your way to a cleaner makeup routine in no time.

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